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A girl who was being trained as a domestic migrant worker looks through the security gate at an SKMM Investment Group training centre in Phnom Penh in 2011
A girl who was being trained as a domestic migrant worker looks through the security gate at an SKMM Investment Group training centre in Phnom Penh in 2011 after company staff prevented her from leaving the premises. Pha Lina

‘Trusted’ recruiters’ shady past

At least 11 of the 49 recruiting firms the Ministry of Labour has approved to send Cambodian workers overseas are alleged to have been complicit in shady practices ranging from broken promises to allegations of abuse and captivity in the past four years.

A Ministry of Labour announcement, dated February 24 and signed by Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng, names 49 recruitment agencies that find employment abroad for Cambodians that the ministry deems legitimate.

“Nowadays, the ministry is sending workers to work in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Korea,” the statement says. “Previously, the ministry found that there were some illegal brokers that cheated Cambodian citizens to illegally work overseas, resulting in abuse and death.”

But the list of publicly approved firms includes Philimore Cambodia, which the Post reported as recently as 2011 sent two Cambodian domestic workers – age 21 and 25 – to Malaysia, where their employers allegedly beat and held them in captivity, forcing them to escape and get back to Cambodia through help they received from Malaysian police, the Cambodian embassy and the Community Legal Education Center.

The Cambodian government imposed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in October of 2011, following a plethora of horror stories of employers subjecting workers to slave labour and subhuman treatment.

Anny Rita Best Manpower, which also made the list of legitimate recruitment agencies, was accused of charging $500 apiece for passports that turned out to be fake to a group of Cambodians subsequently arrested in Thailand for working there illegally. The allegations from family members of the victims – which a man who identified himself as the company’s president denied to a Post reporter – surfaced less than three months ago.

Also making the list is the Ung Rithy Group, which has repeatedly been accused of human trafficking and is headed by Ung Seang Rithy, sister of former national police chief Sok Phal. Seang Rithy has been head of the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies since 2012.

Am Sam Ath, technical law adviser for rights group Licadho, yesterday said that the Ministry of Labour should launch an inquiry into some of the approved agencies and reconsider that approval.

“We worry about this issue, because some of these agencies used to have problems and have been sued in court,” Sam Ath said. “Some directors have warrants out for their arrest.”

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN AND MARIA WIRTH

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